All things considered, 2021 has been a very weird year so far when it comes to leading computing platforms. The first big developments of the year came from Apple, which hosted its big WWDC 2021 developer conference earlier this month. WWDC is always the platform Apple uses to reveal its upcoming new software updates for the year. And it should obviously go without saying that Apple’s iOS updates are the most hotly anticipated unveiling each and every year since that’s the software that powers Apple’s insanely popular iPhones.
There is no question that iOS 15 was the most eagerly awaited part of Apple’s WWDC 2021 keynote. There is also no question that Apple fans were hardly blown away when the company finally unveiled its big iOS 15 update. Long story short, it was a snoozefest — and that’s putting it kindly. There are plenty of nice upgrades in iOS 15, but the consensus among users seems to be that none of them are worth getting too excited about. Meanwhile, macOS Monterey is packed full of nifty new features that had Apple fans buzzing. That’s right, folks… Apple’s new desktop OS update is more exciting than its new iPhone OS update. We never thought we’d see the day.
On Thursday, it was Microsoft’s turn to steal the spotlight for its own big OS announcement. We all knew Windows 11 was coming thanks to leaks, though people didn’t seem terribly excited earlier this week when they got their first glimpse of Microsoft’s next-generation operating system. Would the real thing prove to be any better?
Microsoft on Thursday held a virtual press conference to unveil Windows 11, the next iteration of its computing platform. Now that the dust has settled, it’s safe to say that Windows 11 is much more “iOS 15” than “macOS Monterey.”
It goes without saying that Microsoft doesn’t need to worry very much about excitement when it releases Windows updates. That’s even the case with major updates like Windows 11. If the travesty that was Windows 8 can come and go without putting a dent in Microsoft’s desktop market share, it seems like nothing can topple the giant. According to the most recent market share data, over 80% of computers around the world run Windows.
Long story short, Windows 11 doesn’t have to be exciting to succeed. That’s certainly good news for Microsoft because Windows 11 is a decidedly unexciting update according to most of the chatter we’re seeing on social networks. We’re not so sure we agree with that assessment, but hey, what do we know?
In either case, there’s no question that there are some very nifty new features to be found in Windows 11. Here, we’ll quickly run through the biggest highlights in this roundup.
New design and Start Menu
Microsoft’s new Windows 11 design isn’t a drastic overhaul. That said, there are a bunch of changes that will be immediately apparent to anyone who upgrades from Windows 10. Many of the new design features are brought over from Windows 10X, Microsoft’s now-canceled project that sought to optimize Windows 10 for dual-display devices.
Since most of a Windows user’s time is spent in apps, the most noticeable change to the Windows 11 UI itself is the new Start Menu. And the first thing you’ll notice there is that Live Tiles are now gone, and with them go the last remaining memory of Windows 8.
The new Start Menu in Windows 11 basically looks like a smartphone OS launcher with an extra section for recent documents. Apps can be found at the top, with recent documents and a dedicated search bar located beneath them.
Performance improvements and optimizations
Microsoft promised some serious performance improvements in Windows 11 thanks to a slew of optimizations as well as a bunch of new tech. Among the new technology that will help boose performance is DirectStorage, which is already available on the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. You’ll need one of the latest NVMe drives to take advantage of this particular feature, but it should result in a dramatic reduction in load times on Windows 11.
Android apps on Windows 11
That’s right… you’ll be able to run Android apps on your Windows 11 computer! This is a huge addition to Windows, especially when you consider the fact that Android app support is one of the main draws for Chrome OS. Intel Bridge technology will enable Android app support in Windows 11, and Microsoft also worked with Amazon to make this new addition possible.
Microsoft said it will share more information on Android app support in Windows 11 “in the coming months.”
New Microsoft Store
Microsoft unveiled a brand new Microsoft Store for Windows 11 apps — and wouldn’t you know it, Microsoft won’t be taking any cut of sales made through its new app store.
Windows 11 is free!
This is quite possibly the single most exciting thing about Microsoft’s big Windows 11 update: It’s free!
If you missed the event, there’s a great condensed version of the presentation that was created by The Verge embedded below. And if you want to dive right in, you can download and install a preview version of Windows 11 by joining Microsoft’s Insider program.